Monday 21 October 2019

Happiness course will count towards students' degrees at University of Bristol

Professor Bruce Hood, a psychologist who researches how the brain works and how humans think, will teach the 12-week course. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Professor Bruce Hood, a psychologist who researches how the brain works and how humans think, will teach the 12-week course. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Claire Hayhurst

The University of Bristol will offer students lessons in happiness, which will count towards their degrees from next year.

Professor Bruce Hood, a psychologist who researches how the brain works and how humans think, will teach the 12-week course.

It is open to students from all university disciplines and will count towards 20 of their 120 credit points for their first year.

The course draws on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, exploring what happiness is and how to achieve it.

Students are taught tangible practices to achieve a more fulfilling life, with their happiness levels monitored throughout.

Last year, 400 students signed up to a voluntary happiness course at the university, which did not result in academic credit.

Prof Hood said: "We're really excited that the university has got behind the Science of Happiness course.

"Next year we're launching it as a full, 20 credit point course, which is very significant.

"We're anticipating hundreds of students taking it, right across the spectrum from not just psychology but every area of interest - engineering, chemistry, medicine and so on.

"This course will be built and established on what we've already learnt in the first year but of course we're going to monitor the students much more closely because it's for credit.

"They can't take an easy option - they've really got to put in the effort and engage."

The pilot course was part of the university's approach to improving well-being and pastoral care.

It was introduced amid growing concerns about student mental health and follows Yale University's Psychology and the Good Life classes.

Pupils measured their happiness levels at the beginning and end of the course, which ran from September to January.

Prof Hood said: "The response to the course was extraordinary.

"These were people who were giving up their time voluntarily to learn about the science of happiness.

"We were really astounded and a little overwhelmed by the numbers.

"We gave measures of happiness before the course started, as well as at the end, and we were pleasantly surprised to see we'd made a difference."

Next year, students will attend a one-hour lecture each week as well as attending a "happiness hub" with their peers.

Lectures will address a series of issues such as whether happiness is in the genes and if it can really be changed, how our minds distort happiness and the role of culture in happiness.

Students will be asked to select one of seven happiness exercises to practice for a week, then assess the effect it has on them.

This will be discussed at the weekly happiness hub meetings.

The exercises are taking time to savour enjoyment; expressing gratitude for people and things; practising random acts of kindness; making social connections; increasing physical activity; sleeping more, and meditating.

Prof Hood said: "Most people think that the path to happiness is success in jobs, salaries, material possessions and relationships.

"Ultimately, the aim is to give a greater understanding of what happiness is and how the human mind often sabotages happiness."

It is hoped the course will follow the success of Yale's offering, which one in four students signed up for.

An online version of Psychology and the Good Life has been accessed by more than 200,000 people.

Professor Laurie Santos, who taught the Yale classes, said: "The anecdotal reports were amazing.

"I get emails from students saying the class changed their life or changed their trajectory - for example, they took a different job after college because of what they learned.

"When you commit to making yourself happier, when you put these practices into place, it can really change your life."

Since launching the course, Prof Santos has taught it to businesses, schoolchildren and elderly people.

"I think we all want to be a little happier, we all worry that we're not flourishing enough," she said.

"The science can give us some important hints about what to do better."

Prof Hood and Prof Santos will give a free public lecture in Bristol called Science of Happiness and The Good Life on Friday evening.

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